A few years ago, a colleague and I met a journalist who had just returned from living in the Middle East and who was quite amazed at the hysterical media reporting about Muslims in the UK. They wanted to understand the issues affecting the Muslim community. “Why is there a higher proportion of Muslims in prison compared to the number of Muslims in the wider UK population?” they asked. That got me thinking. Indeed, why are Muslims 3% of the UK population but 11% of the UK prison population?
I was reminded of that conversation recently as last week’s newspapers reported three horrific crimes committed by some Muslims. A Muslim boy repeatedly stabbed and murdered his former girlfriend after she had broken up their relationship. Another befriended two well-to-do pensioners then murdered them because he wanted to steal their money to pay off his debts and in another horrific case two young boys murdered a shop keeper as they stole sweets, cash, cigarettes and alcohol. Subhanallah!
What values lead these Muslims to commit such horrendous crimes? What will happen if more Muslims assimilate and embrace some of the Western values that David Cameron, Angela Merkel, Nicolas Sarkozy and others continuously lecture us about?
Since 1993, the number of Muslim prisoners has risen threefold and Muslim prisoners constitute an increasing proportion of the prison population. The sad reality is that like many in the wider population, most Muslims end up in jail because of involvement in petty crimes, drugs, alcohol and violent offences. How did our community get here?
Parents were law abiding citizens
The first generation of Muslims who arrived in the West in the 1950s and 60s came with Islamic views and practices different to those in the society. An example is the Islamic believe in marriage as the only valid framework for intimate relationships between men and women, as opposed to cohabitation or having boyfriends and girlfriends.
They also came with Islamic values including a belief in abiding by the Creator’s commands in our daily lives as opposed to the wider society’s ‘freedom’ to live as you like. Muslims believe in accountability to the All Aware Creator and that when if commits a crime, even if they are not caught or punished in this life, there is no evading accountability by the Creator in the next life.
“Verily, the most honourable of you with Allah is that believer who has At-Taqwa [consciousness of Allah]. Verily, Allah is All-Knowing, All-Aware” [TMQ Surah 49:13]
This idea forms a powerful deterrent against vile, unruly and violent behaviour and that is why many of the first generation of Muslims turned out to be amongst the most respectful and law-abiding members of society.
Western values and crime
As their children grew up with a constant diet of ‘freedom’ and ‘life is about what makes you happy’, it was inevitable that some forgot this concept of accountability to Allah (swt) and simply sought material pleasures at any cost. After all, a popular mantra in the west says ‘you only live once, enjoy life to the max’. So we started to witness an increase in the number of Muslims committing the type of crimes prevalent in the wider society. In terms of values, these Muslims have embraced the culture of freedom, disrespect for elders and authority, and licentiousness which are some of the prevalent values in the West.
More assimilation, more problems
As a more aggressive assimilation agenda sweeps across Europe, more and more strident voices are demanding that Muslims must embrace western values. Muslims should challenge these voices by highlighting the consequences of some of these values in the wider society. Neglect of the elderly, the degrading objectification of women for profit, high levels of crime and reoffending, and increasing drug and alcohol abuse by ever younger children are just a few effects of the freedom, licentiousness and ‘do whatever makes you happy’ culture that even some in the West are starting to question.
So the more Muslims succumb to this intimidation and demands to give up some of our Islamic beliefs in order to be accepted, the more we will see Muslim families being afflicted by the same problems that are prevalent in society. The more we let go of our values of modesty, abiding by Allah’s (swt) shariah, respect for elders, accountability to Allah (swt) and other Islamic concepts, the more we will see some Muslims involvement in committing heinous crimes against other members of society and a consequent contribution to the ever rising prison population.
In a recent report, Anne Owers the Chief Inspector of prisons wrote that “Many Muslim prisoners also stressed the positive and rehabilitative role that Islam played in their lives, and the calm that religious observance could induce in a stressed prison environment”. So for some in prison, it is actually a discovery of Islam that helps them to start living a crime free life which is why 30% of the Muslim inmates are said to be converts.
As ambassadors of Islam, we Muslims need to stand for Islam, stand by our noble Islamic values, teach them to our children, reinforce them in our Mosques, madrasas, schools and other institutions and discuss them with the wider society, especially when some demand that we leave them. One result will be that non-Muslim teachers and the elderly will marvel at the respect afforded them by Muslim students and youngsters who embody these values, Muslim families will be seen as strong, loving and united, and Muslims will end up being under represented in the prison population. And we should also be at the forefront of challenging those western values which are wrecking havoc with the lives of people in the west and in the east.
Media Representative of Hizb ut-Tahrir in Britain
28th October 2010